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The Habits Of Happiness by Matthieu Ricard at TED 2004

A TED Talk A Day, Day 11: A subtle but compelling argument for us to train our minds through meditation, to get in touch with what Ricard calls our “cognitive quality”, that inner consciousness on which thoughts and emotions glide through. Even though I meditate daily, I found this talk to be a great reminder about what it is I am trying to do when I meditate.

  1. We all have a deep desire for well-being or happiness. Few of us wake up thinking we want more suffering.
  2. But what exactly is happiness? Some philosopher have left this open so that we define it ourselves, but that doesn’t work. But if it is going to determine the quality of every moment of our lives, we must have an idea of what it is.
  3. Happiness is not the same as pleasure. Pleasure is dependent on time, place and circumstance. We might like chocolate cake, but try eating it every day, and our opinions will change. Pleasure seems to use itself as we experience it.
  4. The Buddhist view is that well-being, or happiness, is not just a pleasurable sensation; it is a deep sense of serenity and fulfilment. It underlies all emotional states. It is like the ocean: the surface my have waves, highs and lows, but the depth always remains.
  5. We often look outside ourselves to get happiness. But “our control of the outer world is limited, temporary, and often illusory.”
  6. Yet it is the mind that translate our outer conditions into happiness or suffering. We may be in fantastic conditions but be unhappiness inside, and vice versa.
  7. There are certain conditions that are conducive to the flourishing of this state of mind. There are also some that are averse to this flourishing: anger, hatred, jealousy, obsessive desire, strong grasping.
  8. We must ask: what is the nature of mind? Consciousness is like a mirror that allows both beautiful and horrible images to appear, but is itself not altered by the images. If it was then it would be “stained” permanently.
  9. This pure cognitive quality is separate from the storm of emotions, which are fleeting. So we can base mind training on the idea that we cannot hold on to two opposite mental factors (responses?) at the same time. It is this cognitive quality that we can explore.
  10. Every time we go back to the mental objects that are problematic, it reinforces that obsession or annoyance. Yet like a thundercloud, what looks menacing is formless and not solid. If we experiencing this enough, then it becomes harder for these emotions to take hold.
  11. We used to believe that the brain doesn’t change after a certain age, but we now know that this is not true; the brain continues to change as we grow older. So we can actually train our minds.
  12. In scientific studies of adept meditators, they show a higher degree of left pre-frontal lobe activation when meditating on compassion (the left PFL is associated with expressions of happiness, creativity, etc). Meditators could also control their emotional response more than average people during experiments (which sometimes required an intimidating amount of restrictive equipment).
  13. We love to spend our time on our education and on exercise, yet we spend little time on taking care of our minds and the way they function.

Suggested action step: I will (continue to) train and explore my mind through meditation.

15 things I wish I knew when I was 25

Sometimes we forget what we know is good and true, and instead fall into the trap of habit. So sometimes we need reminding.

I did this exercise for day 64 of Claudia Altucher’s Become an Idea Machine (which called for only 10 things!), and realised this was not a list to my younger self; it’s really a list to myself right now, so I wanted to keep it handy.

15 things I wish I knew when I was 25

  1. Brush it off. Yes, things didn’t work out the way you wanted. Now get up, decide what the fuck you want to do next, and go do it.
  2. Stop expecting people to be perfect. Including yourself.
  3. Stop wasting time on what doesn’t matter.
  4. Stop waiting for things to fall in place.
  5. Take care of your body. It will take time, so start learning now.
  6. Keep in touch with your friends.
  7. Have random fun. It will make you happy.
  8. Try things that seem difficult or “unlike” you.
  9. Take care of the ones you love.
  10. Don’t let your emotions get in the way of what’s important.
  11. Meditate.
  12. Listen to your gut. Explore the things your instincts tell you to.
  13. Following what you think you “should” do or what’s “safe” will only lead to pain.
  14. The only limitations are your thinking and your habits. You can change them.
  15. There is enough time in life. Stop wasting time thinking there isn’t.

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